South Asian Journalists Association Convention
From News India Times
By Jyotirmoy Datta
From noon, June 14, when the 2002 SAJA (South Asian Journalists
Association) Convention in New York opened, till the afternoon of
June 16, when the marathon whirl of workshops, panels, receptions,
brunches and dinners closed with a guided tour of Ground Zero, there
was so much to be heard, seen and done, all at the same time, that
one wished one had four heads like the Hindu god, Brahma.
At any particular hour, there were such attractive workshops and
discussions going on that one was overwhelmed with an excess of
choices, so tempting a smorgasbord of events had the organizers
laid out for the 500 or so participants.
For example, between 10:30 a.m. and noon on June 15, five simultaneous
panels were in progress in Lerner Hall of Columbia University. One
sat for a while in Room No. 555, where a heated discussion was raging
on "South Asias Big Stories: How America covers (most
speakers said, it doesnt, unless it is a carnage at the palace
or the sinking of a ferry with 300 on board) countries apart from
India and Pakistan."
Then one wrenched oneself from those accusations of neglect by
the United States media of Nepal, or Bhutan, or Bangladesh, and
rushed downstairs to Room No. 477, where Gita Amar, the N.Y. correspondent
of Radio Australia, Om Malik, reporter with Red Herring, Roshni
Rajkumar, a TV journalist based in Atlanta, Anupy Singla of Bloomberg
TV in Chicago and Anand Vaishnav, reporter, The Boston Globe, were
purveying tips on How to Break into Journalism.
At the same time, in Room No. 501, Investigative Reporting
was the topic being discussed by Mukul Pandya, editor, Knowledge@Wharton,
Geeta Anand of The Wall Street Journal, Prashant Gopal of the Wilmington
News Journal, Shankar Parameshwaran of New Jerseys Business
News, and Chitra Raghavan of U.S. News and World Report.
From the above, it should not be inferred that all the participants
were desis. SAJA had cast its net deep and wide, hauling up journalism
gurus from every field. In Room No. 503, according to the program,
Mervin Block, "Americas leading broadcast writing coach,"
was giving tips "guaranteed to improve your TV and radio writing
skills." For tips on improving photography, a workshop was
in session next door, with Stephan Jacobs, photo editor, Inc. magazine,
sharing his experiences.
In her remarks opening the convention, Barbara Crossette, former
South Asia bureau chief of The New York Times, noted the strides
that desis have made in the media in the past eight years. She recalled
that at an Asian American media gathering in 1993, with her attachment
to the subcontinent, she was looking around for South Asians, who
were ubiquitous by their absence. Columbia Professor of Journalism
Sreenath Sreenivasan, who is the moving spirit behind SAJA, introduced
Crossette as a close observer of the region for over 30 years. She
first went to South Asia in 1981, as a Fulbright scholar based in
Chandigarh, from where she had a good view of the Khalistan movement.
Although everyone connected with SAJA is aware of Sreenivasans
role in creating the organization and bringing it to its current
size and status, the smoothness and punctuality of the events during
convention were something of a discovery. For a desi event, it was
absolutely incredible, but it was overseen by Sreenivasan running
around with a stopwatch in his hand.
Of course, he was supported by a wonderful team, with scores of
enthusiastic and courteous volunteers, including Time magazine reporter
Jyoti Thottam, who is president of the SAJA board, and Indira Somani,
freelance journalist, who chaired the convention.
Although it was raining in the morning of the opening day, one
had no trouble locating the convention hall, the entire campus being
plastered with directions.
Registration was almost a celebration, with the girl at the desk
making it seem as if it was family reunion for Durga Puja or Pongal
or something. The high point of the convention was, of course, the
eighth annual dinner on June 15, described as An Evening with
Steve Coll & Tribute to Daniel Pearl. If the convention
functioned with computer-precision, the tribute to Pearl showed
that SAJA has a heart.
Part of the evenings program read: "Besides his wife,
son and parents, Danny leaves two sisters, Michelle and Tamara.
His death is also mourned by dozens of relatives, scores of friends,
hundreds of colleagues, thousands of readers and millions of people
around the world. To support the spirit of Dannys work through
the Daniel Pearl Foundation, visit http://www. danielpearlfoundation.org."
Michelle and Tamara were present in the hall when the citation
honoring Pearl was read. The sisters broke into tears as the rest
of those present at the dinner rose to their feet in silence.
Steve Coll, managing editor of The Washington Post, where he has
worked since 1985, spoke of how it would be in Indias interest
to help Pakistan become a liberal and secular democracy, a consummation
devoutly to be prayed for but, on current indications, it seemed
at least to one reporter, unlikely to be achieved in the foreseeable
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